Steve Baker backs Sunak, says Johnson winning would be ‘guaranteed disaster’

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A prominent member of the Tory right has come out in support of Rishi Sunak and declared that if former premier Boris Johnson won the contest to become the UK’s next prime minister it would be a “guaranteed disaster.”

Steve Baker, a Northern Ireland minister and prominent Brexiteer who backed Johnson in 2019 told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show that an ethics inquiry into issues including parties during coronavirus lockdowns meant that a Johnson premiership would be bound to “implode.”

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Baker said that was needed now was “stability and professionalism” and that he had spoken to the former chancellor of the exchequer three times in the last 24 hours.

Liz Truss’s exit after just 44 days as prime minister on Thursday triggered a speedy leadership race, one that could theoretically see Johnson and Sunak square off. However, neither has publicly declared their candidacy.

Sunak is far ahead in a tally of publicly declared nominations from Conservative MPs, and has also gathered key backing from the right of his party. More than 125 MPs have declared support for the former chancellor, while Johnson has claimed to have reached the threshold of 100 but fewer than 60 of those can be named.

With some in the party raising the prospect of a deal, despite the bitterness caused by Sunak’s role in Johnson’s downfall, the men met last night but no details have emerged of what was discussed.

In a move likely to influence many of her fellow MPs on the right of the party, International Trade minister and Brexit supporter Kemi Badenoch has used a piece in the Sunday Times to back Sunak, making her the first Cabinet minister to do so.

In a direct dig at her former boss, who many expected her to support, she wrote: “Some of my colleagues yearn for a simple solution to the leadership question and hark back to what were, unbelievably, simpler times....But what we need is not nostalgia for the cavalier elan of the 2019. We need patient, honest, competent, Conservative virtue.”

She goes on to praise Sunak’s “fiscal conservatism” and to declare that his willingness to say no to Cabinet colleagues is “what we need.”

Johnson was boosted Sunday by support from one of Badenoch’s Cabinet colleagues. Nadhim Zahawi was a short-lived chancellor for Johnson, before telling the PM in July, to “go now.”

He came out in favor of his old boss on Twitter, writing: “He got the big calls right, whether it was ordering more vaccines ahead of more waves of COVID, arming Ukraine early against the advice of some, or stepping down for the sake of unity. But now, Britain needs him back.”

The only candidate to declare so far is Leader of the Commons, Penny Mordaunt. She has only 23 named backers but told Sky News that she was “confident of our numbers” and that “I am best placed to bring this party together.”

She confirmed that she would keep the current chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in his role and that she had sat down with him in the Treasury and been briefed on the state of the country’s finances.

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